God, concepts of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K030-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

8. Panentheism

Panentheism can be traced back at least to the Hindu thinker Rāmānuja (§3); its chief twentieth-century friends have been ‘process philosophers’ (see Process theism). Panentheism seeks a middle ground between classical theism and pantheism, preserving the former’s claim that God has intellect and will and the latter’s sense of intimate connection between God and universe. In panentheism, God is a person who includes the universe, or a soul whose body is the universe. Thus, God is larger than but also like the persons we know: physically embodied in a finite material object, growing older through time and changing as his material parts change. Panentheists claim that even so, God is perfect, because persons are the acme of perfection. Panentheists deny that God is immaterial; most also affirm that he has spatial extension, and offer their own distinctive slants on other traditional divine attributes.

The panentheist’s God includes other things, and so depends on them. Such a God is thus not a se in the classical sense. But such a God may still be more independent than anything else. He depends only on things he includes, in contrast to depending on things that include him or that lie beyond him. Some panentheists (such as Charles Hartshorne) see some sorts of dependence as perfections. Compassion and sympathy are (they argue) moral perfections that involve having feelings that depend on others’ fortunes, and all knowledge depends on the objects known. The panentheist’s God has the complexity of the universe and changes as it does. But some panentheists (such as Hartshorne) maintain that God’s abstract nature is simple, while Rāmānuja sites all complexity in God’s body, the universe, holding that God’s inner self, the pure Brahman, is partless. Hartshorne and Rāmānuja claim that God is immutable in certain respects, Hartshorne that his basic character (perfect benevolence, and so forth) cannot change, Rāmānuja that all change occurs in God’s body, the universe, not in Brahman proper. Panentheists hold that God is eternal in the sense of everlasting in time; Hartshorne defends a version of the ontological argument, contending that God exists necessarily. Process panentheists usually claim that God cannot know the future, as it is indeterminate and so unknowable, and that God’s power, while greater than any other being’s, is not literally omnipotence. In this they follow Plato, whose Demiurge seeks to mould the world into a better place, but is limited by the recalcitrant material with which he works.

Citing this article:
Leftow, Brian. Panentheism. God, concepts of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K030-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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